Listeriosis - 9 Basic Listeria Causes

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Listeria Causes

Late in April, a Florida-based produce company issued a recall of its French Beans due to possible Listeria contamination. The company distributed the potentially contaminated product to retail stores in over 12 states. The discovery of the contamination came during routine testing.

Listeria is a severe infection, usually caused by eating contaminated food. It can cause severe illness and sometimes death, particularly in pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

The bacteria that cause listeriosis are widespread in the environment and live in soil and water. Animals can carry the bacteria without appearing ill and contaminate food during slaughter or processing. Listeria develops in various raw foods, such as unpasteurized milk and dairy products, soft cheeses, cold cuts, smoked seafood, and raw fruits and vegetables.

Listeriosis usually happens due to eating contaminated food. The bacteria can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops or utensils, or contact with infected animals, such as poultry or livestock.

Pregnant women are ten times more likely than other adults to get listeriosis. Pregnant women typically experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, but listeriosis can cause premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

People with weakened immune systems are at increased risk for severe illness from listeriosis. Weakened immune systems can result from cancer treatment, organ transplants; HIV/AIDS; chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease; and taking certain medications, such as steroids or drugs that suppress the immune system. Other listeria causes include:

  • Eating raw or unpasteurized dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or pudding
  • Eating raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as poached, soft-boiled, or sunny side up
  • Eating undercooked meat or poultry, such as hamburgers, turkey burgers, chicken nuggets, or hot dogs
  • Eating unwashed raw fruits and vegetables 
  • Drinking raw (unpasteurized) fruit juices
  • Eating prepared foods containing Listeria monocytogenes bacteria:
    • Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs
    • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
    • Refrigerated smoked seafood
    • Refrigerated smoked seafood
    • Refrigerated smoked salmon
    • Imported soft cheeses, such as Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, brie, Camembert, panela, asadero, and queso seco
  • Drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk or apple cider
  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with Listeria bacteria and then touching your mouth or eating without washing your hands first
  • Having contact with infected animals, such as poultry or livestock.

Listeria Symptoms

Listeriosis typically starts with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, and diarrhea, followed by more severe listeria symptoms, such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. People with more severe illnesses can develop meningitis (inflammation of the brain) or sepsis (a potentially life-threatening condition caused by an infection in the blood) and may require hospitalization.

Listeria Treatment

Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery in pregnant women. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe listeria symptoms and may require hospitalization. People with listeriosis usually recover with antibiotics, but the infection can be painful or life-threatening. People with listeriosis usually recover within a week.

Listeria Prevention

Take the following steps to reduce the risk of Listeria infection:

-Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat, poultry, or fish.

-Wash cutting boards, knives, and other utensils used to prepare raw meat, poultry, or fish with hot soapy water and then sanitize them with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water.

-Wash countertops and other surfaces with hot soapy water, then sanitize them with one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water.

-Wash raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly with water before eating them.

-Cook meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure that they have reached a safe internal temperature.

-Avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese, cider, and other products made from unpasteurized milk.

-Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) apple cider or other fruit juices.

-Do not eat hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts, or other deli meats unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving.

If a person is pregnant, breastfeeding, elderly, or has a weakened immune system, they should talk to their health care provider about which foods to avoid. They may recommend that the individual avoid certain foods altogether or suggest that they cook them in a certain way to kill any listeria bacteria present.

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